Dead Poets Society is one of the first names that comes to mind when asked about a film about teachers inspiring the students. The film is directed by Peter Weir and stars Robin Williams. He plays John Keating, an English professor who has students rip out the pages of a section in a textbook where poetry is measured. This struck a chord with me as I too am scornful of the idea of algorithms deciding the readability of a piece on digital platforms. I wonder how many of the classic novels would have passed such bizarre tests.
Keating inspires his students to seize the day and make their lives extraordinary.
“Carpe diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
The ending is absolutely triumphant and symbolic of what a true teacher does. Like all film debates, this is one of the questions that always emerges:
What other movies are there like Dead Poets Society?
There are many such movies in the storied history of moving pictures. However, they are all united by the form of their presentation.
With Dead Poets Society, one can suggest similar movies concerning the coming of age of the protagonist. Another line of thought can be to consider movies where a particular character leaves a lasting impact on the audience. One can even think about films that have the audience question existence and life itself – by presenting the hard truth.
Finally, when talking about movies similar to Dead Poets Society, it is natural to link it to movies based on teachers. The sort of ones that are so rare in real life. The ones that come from the movies. Or perhaps the ones so accurately represented by the movies that it gets the viewer to comprehend their struggle.
The list will be in Alphabetical order:
1. Fight Club (1999)
Unexpected, right? Well, I did say that Dead Poets Society made me think about life in general. It led me to question myself as to which other movie was as thought-provoking. We cannot talk about it. But maybe, it’s time to break that one rule.
Starring Brad Pitt, Ed Norton, Jared Leto, and Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club is a brutally honest take on society. Laced with instances of consumerism and the need to impress anyone it breaks down the reasons why anyone indulges in anything.
It touches upon the way lies nurture a generation of weak minds. Is everyone special? Yes. Is everyone going to be millionaires, rock stars? No. This is a truth like that will hit less like a freight train if it isn’t held back.
Look back. It’s the hidden thing that gets you somewhere, and then? It all crumbles once it disappears. Why does it hit so hard? You spend so long believing something. And as the bubble bursts, then it all falls apart.
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Is self-destruction the answer? Sure, let everyone be depressed and engage in a spiritual war.
“Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact.”
Fight Club makes you question everything about something that’s going by second-by-second.
“This Is Your Life, And It’s Ending One Minute At A Time.”
Dead Poets Society doesn’t tell people that they are extraordinary. It sheds light on how the batch under Keating is the same as the predecessors. He motivates them to seize the day. He doesn’t tell them to do that because they are special would live like millionaires. It is because it is their lives and he wants them to live to the fullest. Their lives too are dwindling away and like the boys he shows them in the Carpe Diem scene, they too are closer to being daffodil fertilizer with every passing minute.
Watch/Stream Fight Club on Amazon Prime
2. Freedom Writers (2007)
This film makes the list as it features a teacher who goes beyond the necessities and understands her students. She does so to do her job to the fullest and in turn, provokes them to change. The film chronicles the true story of Erin Gruwell and her students and is based on ‘The Freedom Writers Diary.’
Hilary Swank plays Erin Gruwell- an English teacher who wishes to be part of what she labels an exciting integration program. Unfortunately for her, the students aren’t as excitable. Some of them make the journey to the classroom as the other alternative is jail.
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Given the records of the students, gang warfare and brawls are the norms; it unnerves Gruwell. She admits it wasn’t the way she imagined things to be. But is it ever? Gruwell allays the fears of her family and colleagues. She doesn’t give up on them and tries to make their lives more meaningful. She tries to get to the root of the problem and unite them.
The aim here is to make it seem as though the education system cares about them rather than letting them proceed with the assumption that they are being taught for the sake of it.
A bond of unity is formed and the students’ and teacher’s lives are changed. Though at the cost of the certain established protocols being upset. Now in which other film have we seen that?
Watch/Stream Freedom Writers on Jio Cinema
3. The Chorus (2004)
The French film directed by Christopher Barratier was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the 77th Oscar awards. At a first glance, it feels like an absolute rip off from Dead Poets Society. At least in terms of impact.
In Wellton, the students were disciplined but blinded by academic pursuits. (Focus on discipline as it is far from the case in this film)
The film sees Clement Mathieu (Gerard Jugnot) arrive at Fond de l’Etang. He is a failed musician who now seeks his fortune as a school supervisor. This is no ordinary school though as it resembles a home with strict discipline. It is a place where the action-reaction method is used. A teacher says it is the only thing the boys understand.
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However, the caretaker Maxance (Jean-Paul Bonnaire) is one of the few who is patient with them. He says that they need to be given a chance. Mathieu is the one to do this as he gets the children to hone their rude off-tune singing and form a choir. Eventually, the discipline improves, and we see the impact a teacher made by understanding his students and elevating them.
I love how the seasons are used in Les Choristes. The bleakness of winter with Mathieu’s arrival makes way to the blossoming of talent and fresh equations and hope for the once thought lost causes as spring blossoms.
The film’s ending too has a scene very reminiscent of Dead Poets Society. It shows how it is tough to suppress and get anyone to conform once they have been set free.
4. Mohabbatein (2004)
This movie is considered the Hindi equivalent of Dead Poets Society. It is a much closer match than any film on the list too. The children aren’t rowdy ones that need to be turned. Like Dead Poets Society, they are decent but are ruled by an authoritarian Narayan Shankar.
Thee iron binds with which Shanker runs the Gurukul compresses their lives.
Enter Raj. He is a music teacher who encourages the students to follow their hearts. He brings music and love to the university. Whilst Shankar is fine with the music, he isn’t as welcoming to the change that is threatening to usurp the institutional values he cherishes.
The film veers into Bollywood territory with it being an open war between the headmaster and the teacher; Keating never explicitly encouraged the students to break the rules.
The victory element is used in Mohabbatein. However, the manner of the promotion seems odd. Imagine how odd it would have been if Keating been made principal of the Welton after Nolan saw what Keating had imbibed in the class. Mohabbatein is uplifting in a different manner with the victory of the ideal teacher over the draconian teacher.
Stream/Watch Mohabbatein on Amazon Prime
5. Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
Julia Roberts plays Katherine Watson, who is a free-spirited non-conforming (dangerous) professor of Art History. She arrived at Wellesley College to make a difference and not to fit in. However, Watson is appalled by how the institute functions. She views it as a training ground that grooms little women to be good wives.
Initially, she is instructed to follow the discipline and not get noticed. But, in a Dead Poets Society type of film list in a film that many observers call the female version of the film, is that possible? Of course, she veers away from tradition to tell her students that certain non-confirming things are okay.
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Also in veering away from traditions, Watson deviates from classical art and instead focuses on modern and crude art. This is because she sees that the students have read up everything they can on the paintings and lack the ability to have an original critique. Remember the rip scene from Dead Poets Society?
Akin to Keating, she too seeks to convey to her students to live their lives. She succeeds in certain ways, but going against the established order is a crime. Life is more than just following societal norms. Or is it?
6. Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)
Mr Holland’s Opus takes place across a 30 year time period from 1965 to 1995. Richard Dreyfus plays Glenn Holland, a man who wishes to pursue his dream of composing as well as make a steady income.
To achieve this objective, he turns to teach and displays reluctance right from day one. This goes to the extent of the principal branding him as a student, for he rushes to the parking lot soon after the final bell.
He lets slip that he wanted free time so he became a teacher, and he realizes that it was so wrong. The film embodies selflessness as Holland realizes that he must devote himself to the betterment of his students. To achieve this goal, he must be available way beyond the academic time.
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On the flip side, his personal life isn’t smooth. Yet Holland perseveres at his job, and we see glimpses of how he touches the lives of everyone around him. This is signified as he receives the appreciation and sees his efforts over time.
A teacher’s effort is there in small parts. However, it cannot be seen as the students leave year after year. Yet they remember and cherish the efforts that helped them become what they are today.
Mr. Holland’s Opus’ in a beautiful climax is symbolic of the unseen and unnoticed efforts of a teacher. This elevates the feel-good factor as the lines of frustration following his termination hit hard.
7. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Whilst not about teachers, it signifies the impact of a man who goes against the established order. In the film, Randall McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) must deal with the autocratic Nurse Ratched. He finds it bizarre how the inmates are so subversive and attempts to breathe some life into the surroundings.
The scene that makes me think of Dead Poets Society is in the end. After a heartbreaking visual of how society deals with a dangerous element, audiences get to witness the impact of positivity and how a spark can set everyone and anyone free. I think of the scene where the students stand on their desks and say, “O Captain, My Captain.”
Even though the catalyst is gone, his ideals and morals remain and live on.
8. Taare Zameen Par (2007)
Strict school, demanding parents, misunderstood child, and teachers who have seemingly given up. This story is one that has everyone crying out for the ideal teacher to materialize from somewhere and rescue the poor boy.
He has talents in certain spheres that often get ignored. He wishes to break free and express himself, but is lost. Lost until teaching change is made.
This new teacher is poles apart from the ranting, stick-wielding teachers we see in the film. Why can’t films show a math teacher who changes the world? They do at times, but it’s always the ones in the arts and literature.
This teacher enters the scene as a clown with big ears and a funny mustache, dressed in bright colors, uttering gibberish, and basically establishing himself as the anti-thesis of the teachers we witness.
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Aamir Khan plays Ram Shankar Nikumbh. He is a part-time art teacher at the New Era High School. He is completely different from the rest of the teachers. The teacher welcomes his new class with a rendition of a song; the lyrics urge them to look at things differently.
The class is receptive. Well, all of them except for the protagonist Ishaan. He is packed off far away from his family to get some discipline imbibed in him. However, he has retreated even further into his shell and shunned the one activity he loved above all else.
The teacher here takes the time to understand him. Build his confidence and eventually brings about a glorious change in the student.
Why did I compare this film to Dead Poets Society? Well, here too the teacher urges the student to think differently. Here too the teacher changes the life of the student and builds him up by showing him he is special and unique in something. The confidence carries forward and turns his life around. All for a little extra effort to urge him to seize the day and discover his true potential.
Watch/Stream Taare Zameen Par on Netflix
9. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)
The film features Maggie Smith as a teacher who has classy one-liners and comes across as a total badass. It wouldn’t be wrong to think of Harry Potter, but almost three decades before she took on the role of Minerva McGonagall, Smith portrayed an unconventional teacher. Her portrayal dominated the screen and earned her her first and only win in the lead actress category at the Academy Awards.
Throughout the film, Jean Brodie comes across as the one who disparages the text and traditional learnings. Nevertheless, her class keeps the books open as a ruse for the traditional observers. Though controversial and bordering on manipulative to inculcate her beliefs on select students, Brodie comes across as a breath of fresh air. She is an educator who is unique and not willing to be restricted whilst in her prime.
Jean Brodie echoes the ideals that she is a teacher and she has her own idea of what an education should be. She refuses to cram ideas into the heads of impressionable minds. Instead, she takes them beyond the text while subtly making an impression on her students, most notably – The Brodie set.
Watch/Stream The Prime of Miss Brodie on HBO Max
10. To Sir, with Love (1967)
Sidney Poitier plays Mark Thackeray, who is an immigrant and needs to earn while the procedure for his real job is explored. To solve this, he accepts the role of a teacher. However, he must deal with a bunch of disinterested students who are averse to learning and take education as a joke.
Here the titular ‘Sir’ lays down the law and imbibes discipline amongst his students. He is a reluctant teacher who brings about an unimaginable change among his pupils. Thackeray doesn’t seek to understand his students. Instead, he does away with the teacher-student equation by employing the policy of treat the other as you want to be treated.
The students here get treated as adults, and they reciprocate the same to the teacher. Akin to Dead Poets Society, they veer away from the curriculum and get prepared for life. Not the beauty of life that Keating wished to inculcate among the Welton students, but real life.
The film is symbolic of how a teacher’s work doesn’t just end with one batch. It needs to continue as light flames in the lives of multiple batches of students across the years.